Eighty years ago in 1934, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night opened to indifferent reviews in America. But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was so ecstatic about the film that it honoured it with five top Oscars in 1935 – Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.
This was the first ever occasion for a movie to have clinched all the five biggies at one shot. The feat was repeated years later in 1975 (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and the third time in 1991 (The Silence Of The Lambs). There has not been another work to achieve this rare distinction.
A brand new print of It Happened One Night – staring Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert -- that was digitally restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is now being premiered in the USA.
Capra’s film, based on a Samuel Hopkins Adams short story, Night Bus, tells us how a rich, pampered and spoilt girl (Colbert) runs away from her rich father’s clutches. In the course of her escapade, she falls in love with a roguishly delightful news reporter (Gable).
We have had two Indian copies of this movie. Raj Kapoor-Nargis starrer Chori Chori in 1956 ran very close to the American version, and this Hindi film was about the last time that the two actors were seen together on screen. Nargis, disappointed with Kapoor after their affair seemed to lead nowhere, married Sunil Dutt in 1958.
In 1991, the Mahesh Bhatt-helmed Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin -- with Aamir Khan stepping into Gable’s shoes and Pooja Bhatt playing the Bollywood version of Colbert -- was a frame-by-frame copy of It Happened One Night. Bhatt’s work had some fantastic music and songs, and I remember Indian/Pakistani taxi drivers in Toronto and Montreal playing them that year.
Coming back to It Happened One Night, neither Gable nor Colbert were the first choices to essay the leads. When they finally came on board, the shoot began in an atmosphere of terrible tension. Both were unhappy with the script, but came around to a congenial working mood, and Capra helped here by encouraging Gable to play practical jokes on Colbert.
The lady responded with equal humour. And all was well, though there was one scene which irked her -- a scene where she had to pull her skirt up to reveal her leg. When Capra suggested a double, Colbert said nothing doing. That is not my leg, she protested and agreed to expose her own.
Years later, Pooja Bhatt would do the scene with great flourish. She would lift her skirt to titillate a passing car driver so that he would give her and Khan a ride.
It Happened One Night finally triumphed, and Colbert who thought that she had acted in her career’s worst movie, was shocked when she was dragged off a train and taken to the Academy presentation ceremony, where she was given the Best Actress Oscar. Can you imagine the star turning up in a two-piece travelling suit! Well, this also happened one night.